By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — In arguably one of the most thinly veiled political moves in Wisconsin history, Gov. Tony Evers rolled out a “working families” tax relief package Tuesday, on the second anniversary of the Kenosha riots — one of the Democrat’s worst failures as governor.
The package of liberal spending initiatives would grab $600 million a year from the state’s projected robust budget surplus for a 10 percent tax cut, picking winners and losers in tax relief.
Republicans blasted the proposal and its timing.
“Tony Evers knows that today is the two-year anniversary of perhaps his largest failure, and he’s trying to cloak it over,” Tim Michels, Evers’ Republican challenger in November’s election said.
“Today marks the two-year anniversary of the devastating Kenosha riots which destroyed businesses, burned entire city blocks, and resulted in the loss of life,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) in a joint statement. “Releasing a tax gimmick is simply a shiny object to distract voters from his failed leadership,”
In a classic political CYA move, Evers has much ass to cover this week.
Scores of Kenosha businesses, government buildings, and residential properties were damaged or destroyed in the Black Lives Matter riots in August 2020, causing more than $50 million in damage. The chaos began after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man. Evers, without having the facts, fired off an incendiary statement incriminating police. Subsequent independent investigations cleared the officer of any wrongdoing and found that Blake, who was wanted on a warrant for domestic violence and sexual assault charges, had repeatedly resisted arrest, was in possession of a knife and tried to flee the scene with a child.
As has been well documented, the governor was slow to deploy the National Guard, and he failed to provide adequate support when he eventually consented. And Evers initially rejected federal law enforcement assistance from then-President Donald Trump in what clearly was an act of political pettiness.
Faced with all that bad press, declining job approval numbers and a dead heat race against Michels, Evers made a big show Tuesday of the “working families” package.
Undoubtedly his buddies at the state Department of Revenue have tipped him off that the budget surplus will come in at north of $5 billion, much higher than earlier projections. Much of that windfall of taxpayer cash is thanks to the trillions of dollars the Democrat-led federal government pushed out in COVID aid in an attempt to stave off a recession. The recession is here, and so is historically high inflation, driven by massive federal spending.
“Wisconsin families have been through a lot over the past few years, and we know that while our state and economy continue to recover, folks are still worried about rising costs and making ends meet,” Evers said. They are. Inflation is the most pressing concern of Wisconsinites, according to a recent Marquette University Law School Poll. That might have something to do with why so many Wisconsin voters (56%) believe the state is headed in the wrong direction, and only 35 percent think it’s on the right track.
Evers plan includes redistributing taxpayer money, providing a 10 percent tax cut for individual filers making $100,000 or less a year, and married-joint filers earning $150,000 or less a year. He calls it the Family and Individual Reinvestment, or FAIR, tax credit. It leaves some of Wisconsin’s most productive taxpayers out of the tax break.
This is the same governor who proposed some $2 billion in tax hikes in his two biennial budget plans. The Republican-controlled Legislature nixed those increases and Evers’ myriad liberal agenda wish list.
“It’s been fascinating to watch Tony Evers’ election-year conversion on taxes. He wanted to raise taxes by $1 billion in his budget. Now, he wants to cut taxes as the political winds change,” LeMahieu said. “If the governor is serious about providing financial relief to Wisconsinites, he could fund it immediately using federal ARPA dollars. Instead, he’s using a state taxpayer surplus to create political division.”
As the lawmakers note, the last report from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau in June of 2022 showed Evers had $2.2 billion in unspent ARPA funds and $86 million in unspent CARES Act funds. Although originally meant for COVID relief, the U.S. Treasury has broadened the allowable uses of the funds.
Evers’ plan again would deliver tax relief — tax dollars — to Wisconsinites who pay little or no taxes, in the form of an expanded Homestead Credit.
He says his proposal includes other tax credits, for veterans, caregivers and others.
The Republican-controlled Legislature has delivered $22 billion in tax relief over the past decade-plus, including lasting lower rates through reforms to the state’s money-grabbing tax code. GOP leaders vow to push more sustained tax relief ahead.
Evers’ tax relief plan has the feel of his election-year plan in January to use surplus money to give every Wisconsin resident a $150 tax rebate. Republican lawmakers rejected that plan, too, calling it an election-year bribe. In campaigning for governor in 2018, Evers attacked a similar plan from then-Gov. Scott Walker.
“We’re not going to jeopardize future budgets in the midst of a recession to fund a tax gimmick,” Vos said of Evers’ latest proposal. “If the projected surplus materializes, we will cut taxes for everyone. We will not pick winners and losers like Tony Evers does with this vote-buying ploy.”